A three-judge panel of the North Carolina Superior Court, on Monday, unanimously agreed that a recent ruling in the state Supreme Court favoring Gov. Roy Cooper only means a portion of the law combining the state ethics and elections boards has been struck down. The decision spells a win for Republicans in the legislature.
Following the Jan. 26 ruling striking down the law, legislators made minor adjustments to the legislation with the intention of fixing the issues the court found with the legislation, a venture that seems to have been successful.
The question remains however if it will be a permanent win for the legislature or if Cooper will appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.
Cooper’s argument is that the ruling should have voided the entire law, going back to the old system where the sitting governor’s party have the advantage in deciding matters of how elections are carried out.
Writing for the majority in the 4-3 decision in January, Justice Sam Ervin IV said the way the law handled board membership and appointments “taken in context with the other provisions of that legislation, impermissibly interfere with the governor’s ability to faithfully execute the laws” and they were ruled unconstitutional.
The crux of the argument was that requiring equal membership between the two major parties could result in deadlocks where nothing could be decided and also that the governor was only able to remove members of the board for cause did not give him enough power over appointments.
Answering that concern, the legislature gave Cooper more control over removing appointments. And added a ninth member to the board, which will be from neither of the two majority parties, to prevent deadlocked votes.
The changes to the law will not take affect for another two weeks as Cooper announced last month he wouldn’t sign the bill into law — meaning it will become law after a 30-day period, on March 15.
Cooper is expected to sue again, having already shown that he is more than willing to take the legislature to court during his time in the Governor’s Mansion.
Cooper has said the board changes, when taken as a whole, erodes his authority to carry out election laws in the state. An attorney for Cooper called the changes made by the legislature minimal and said he expects a legal challenge to the new law during a conference call with the three-judge panel at the end of February.
Concerning the decision, Senate Leader Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and House Speaker Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said, “We appreciate the court preserved a merged bipartisan elections and ethics board, which polling shows nearly 80 percent of North Carolinians support, and rejected Gov. Roy Cooper’s arguments to resurrect a law that was already taken off the books just because his party would benefit. We have addressed the court’s concerns about the board’s membership in a bill Gov. Cooper has already promised to allow to become law, and we once again encourage him to abandon taxpayer-funded and self-serving lawsuits.”
Legislative leaders say in passing HB 90 in February that they addressed the court’s concerns by giving the governor the ability to “fire – at will and at any time – any
member of the board who administers elections and investigates ethics violations, as long as he replaces the outgoing member with a member from the same party.